If you’ve read about intermittent fasting but aren’t sure if it’s right for you, the quick answer is: maybe. As a weight loss and fitness expert, I’ve been following intermittent fasting for a very long time—sifting through the science, watching patterns with the hundreds of thousands of clients I’ve coached, and figuring out what really works and what doesn’t.
Simply put, intermittent fasting is a diet that alternates periods of eating with periods of not eating. In addition to its ability to help you blast through a weight loss plateau and burn fat, there is an impressive list of therapeutic benefits:
1. Protects your brain.
When my son, Grant, suffered from a severe traumatic brain injury after being in a hit-and-run accident, I researched everything that could support his recovery. Intermittent fasting combined with a ketogenic diet was an amazing combination that made a huge difference in helping to heal his brain.
2. Slows aging.
Intermittent fasting mimics caloric restriction, which is the most effective way we know of to increase life span. When you fast, it gives your cells the ability to detox and recycle, so your body can slow down aging and even prevent age-related diseases.
3. Fights cancer.
Studies have shown that fasting can prevent cancer and even slow or stop its progression! It can also kill cancer cells while boosting the immune system.
If the above aren’t enough to get you excited about the possibilities of intermittent fasting, here are some more benefits: It increases insulin sensitivity, decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease, boosts energy, and enhances mental focus.
These are the different ways to fast.
When it comes to intermittent fasting, there are several options. Some people eat only during an eight-hour window. For example, you can eat from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., then fast from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. Or you can fast for 24 to 36 hours once or twice weekly. There are also several ways to deal with hunger cravings and stay hydrated. You can stick with just water or add some combination of coffee, green tea, and fiber. My good friend, Dr. Kellyann Petrucci, author of The Bone Broth Diet, recommends drinking bone broth during a fast. I’ve tried this fasting technique, and it’s my absolute favorite way to do it.
How to know if fasting is right for you.
In my experience, fasting isn’t for everyone. First, I will say that women need to be more regimented about when they eat. Whether it’s because we’re natural fat storers or because we have babies—women’s systems are just more complicated, so proceed with caution.
In general, pregnant women shouldn’t fast, and neither should women with infertility issues. Those who have adrenal problems (which also tend to primarily affect women), blood sugar imbalance, or diabetes should also pass on intermittent fasting. If none of the above issues apply to you, and you’ve cleared it with your doctor, then you get the green light to give it try!
Before you try fasting, read this.
The truth is that intermittent fasting is an advanced eating plan, and there are some basics you need to have in place if you want to get the benefits without potentially crashing your metabolism and setting yourself up for failure.
In addition to making sure you’re managing your stress levels, getting at least seven hours of sleep regularly, and doing burst training (high-intensity interval training), there are a few critical steps that can really set you up for success while doing intermittent fasting:
1. Become a fat-burner, not a sugar-burner.
My New York Times best-selling book, The Sugar Impact Diet, explains exactly how to switch your body from being a sugar-burner to a fat-burner. You can tell you’re a sugar burner if you get hungry soon after each meal, can’t seem to lose weight (especially around your waist), and get super crabby or suffer from brain fog if you don’t eat every two to three hours.
2. No snacking!
To become a sugar burner, stop snacking between meals. This is because every time you eat, you spike your insulin levels, which prevents fat burning and encourages fat storage. Not good! The secret to curbing hunger is to have protein, fat, and fiber at each meal.
3. Space out your meals.
You know you’re a fat burner if you can go four to six hours between meals and even skip a meal with no problem. When you get comfortable spacing out your meals and eating the right combination of foods, you’ve stabilized your blood sugar and switched over to being a fat-burning machine.
How to make intermittent fasting even more effective.
You can get most of the benefits of intermittent fasting and ditch cravings and deprivation with my 12- to 14-hour fasting method. I keep it super easy. In addition to making the above shifts to being a fat-burner, have breakfast one to two hours upon waking, eat every four to six hours, and then close the kitchen three hours before bedtime. For example, you can eat at 9 a.m., 1 p.m., and 5 p.m., or 10 a.m., 2p.m., and 6 p.m. This gives you that 12- to 14-hour fasting window—and since you’ll be sleeping during most of it—no willpower is needed, and cravings are not an issue. A win-win!
After you’ve mastered the basics, you’re ready to move on to more advanced intermittent fasting. I like to start on a day that is peaceful and low-stress. If you have a packed calendar with stressful times ahead, that’s not a good day to fast! Also, get away from home if possible, so you won’t get tempted by the fridge or food triggers. Now that you have the keys to successful fasting, you’re on your way to reaping the amazing benefits of this powerful way of hacking good health and longevity!
Have more questions? Here’s your definitive guide to fasting.